Easter is not a day. Easter, or Eastertide, is a season. It lasts from Easter Sunday until the Day of Pentecost, which occurs 50 days after Easter. The fifty days between Easter and Pentecost on the Christian calendar was developed as a season of discipleship for new converts to learn what it meant to be a disciple of Christ and about the Christian life. The early leaders of the faith used this time to explain the mysteries of the faith to the newly baptized, and to encourage those already in the faith to discern their spiritual gifts and to strengthen themselves and others through ministries. During Eastertide we read several stories of how the resurrected Christ appeared to a number of different people and how those people responded. For example, this week we read about how Jesus appeared to his disciples on the evening that the empty tomb was discovered.
Eastertide is not only about the resurrection of Christ, but also about the resurrection of our lives. It is a season to remember that power that raised Christ from the dead can also cause us to live lives of victory in this world. I want to encourage you during the fifty days of Eastertide to explore the resurrection of Jesus Christ in particular, especially in terms of what it means for believers and their ongoing life in Christ. It is no wonder that Christians are called believers. We believe that a man died and came back to life! But that is not all that we believe, we believe that the man, Christ Jesus, was God in the flesh and that because God loved us so much he came to earth to have fellowship with us and then die for our sins! Whoa! That is some heavy stuff. Yet we believe. The Lectionary gospel text for the second Sunday of Easter highlights the mystery of our faith. In response to the doubts of Thomas the disciple, Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” John 20:29
Christians believe Jesus came to this earth to deliver a message from God that is so true that it applies for all time and is relevant for all people. It is, for us, an eternal message.
And what is this message from God that Jesus Christ came to share? Simply that God loves us.
God does not want to punish people, but to be reconciled with them.
God does not want to hurt people, but to heal them.
God does not want to pass judgment upon people, but to give them grace.
There is no such thing as Easter Day. Easter is about the resurrection, renewal of life and hope. Because Eastertide is the Christian confession that is that Jesus is God made flesh, and that through his death and resurrection we can have new life, not just for a season but all year long. This is more than just good news, this is amazing grace. We are loved and forgiven by God, therefore we can forgive others.
The Christian community worldwide is journeying together toward the mystery of the resurrection. Lent is good time for reflection and to prepare for spring by doing spring-cleaning for the soul. Of course it seems like spring will never come amidst all of the snow and ice. Just as it seemed to the dismal disciples that Jesus would never arise from the grave, we know spring is coming because God is faithful. When we spring clean our earthly homes we sometimes find that we have to throw some things away. The same thing happens with spiritual spring-cleaning. When we spend time in spiritual reflection we may discover that we have a room full of old hurts, wrong beliefs and regrets that we need to throw away. Lent is a time to strengthen our faith even in the face of what appears to be insurmountable. The same is true of Christians when encountering the Easter mystery. Christ’s death by crucifixion and three days in the tomb – it seems like all is lost. But it’s only a death that leads to new life and an ending, which leads to a new beginning in Christ, if we have the faith to see it and believe it!
Anyone can speak what he or she sees, but it takes faith to speak what we want to see. Anyone can state the obvious, but it takes faith to see the invisible and call it forth! It takes faith to prepare for spring when it is snowing in March! Our Lord Jesus always spoke the good that He wanted to see happen. He said, our friend Lazarus sleeps, but I go that I may wake him up.” Everyone else thought that Lazarus was dead because he was already wrapped in grave clothes and in a tomb. But Jesus spoke of Lazarus as being alive. Jesus called forth what He wanted to see. He said, “Lazarus, come forth! And he who had been dead for four days arose and came out of the tomb (John 11: 43-44).
As the Interim Pastor, I am coming close to the end of my journey here with you. I am hopeful that the Levittown Frist Presbyterian Church will move forward with its mission and ministry. We have been through a winter of sorts, but just as sure as I know that spring is coming, I know that Levittown will enter a new season of revival. It is my prayer that the new pastor will boost morale and membership. We have endured the dormancy of winter the time has come to we enjoy a fruitful spring harvest of blessings for our church and community.
In the first week of the calendar year the church celebrates Epiphany. The name “Epiphany” comes from the Greek word Epiphania, it means “to show, make known, or reveal.” For Christians, Epiphany is to serve as reminder of God the Father’s unlimited love and mercy, which He has extended to all of humankind through the revelation of His Son, and of the hope of salvation that is now manifest for all who come to him in faith.
The dictionary defines epiphany as a sudden and profound understanding of something. Oprah Winfrey has an article that is featured in her magazine entitled “ What I Know for Sure,” in these articles she expounds on what she calls “aha moments” and shares a moment of epiphany about her various life experiences. The one thing I know for sure is that we need an epiphany of the awareness of God’s presence to encourage our hearts and to help us see Christ as Emmanuel (God with us) in our daily lives. God wants us to have a sudden and profound awareness that He is Emmanuel, God with us and that we are never alone. This awareness of God takes a special work of the Holy Spirit because it is hard to remember and easy to forget that God is with us when we face trials or even the mundane rituals of life. good works.
As I begin the New Year, my prayer is that I will have not just one but several epiphanies of God’s presence in my life. I challenge you to do the same. When we recognize that God is with us our worries and fears will have to take a back seat. We can let God take the wheel and let peace reign in our hearts.
The scriptures say that Christ is “Emmanuel God With Us.” We are reminded of this during the joyous holiday season. But God promises to be with all year, not just at Christmas time. Now that Christmas is over and the carols are no longer being sung, and the beautiful displays taken down, can you still sing the words “joy to the world and peace on earth good will to all?” When you have an epiphany of God’s presence every day, you will experience an inner peace that gives you joy that lasts all year long despite change and circumstances.
We have many changes ahead for us this year; we will be sharing ministry and worship with the Massapequa Community Presbyterian and most importantly preparing for the coming of a new pastor. We don’t know what any of this will look like or what the future holds for us but the one thing I know for sure is that God is with us and that we can trust that He will lead us in the right paths.
A couple of weeks ago our church community rallied together on the church front lawn to support National Back to Church Sunday and to register our youth for Sunday School. It was a blessing to see new faces and to see the smiles of the faces of people who have been a part of our congregation for a while come back to church. Seeing our congregation and community come together in that way was encouraging. It did, however, remind me of the many people in our community who need a place to belong.
Recently, LifeWay Research conducted a survey of formerly churched adults in America, hoping to uncover certain trends about why people have stopped attending church. It’s no surprise that the U.S. Church is in a general state of decline. The magnitude of the decline, however, is staggering. Of the 300 million people in the United States, fewer than 20% regularly attend church. And our research suggests that close to 7.9 million people may be leaving churches annually. Crunch the numbers, and you realize that our churches are probably seeing more than 150,000 people walk away each week!
The LifeWay study revealed several common themes as to why such a sizable segment of the local church body is choosing the exit door. They report that, almost 60% of people said that some adjustment to their lives is the primary reason why they no longer attend church. Specifically, one-third of the formerly churched believe they are simply too busy for church. To them, life changes—often family or home needs—are as important as or more important than attending a local church. Several people reported that family responsibilities were causing them to feel too busy to attend church. And women (64%) are more likely than men (51%) to feel this increased pressure from home responsibilities. About 28% of those reporting lifestyle changes said that a move to a new location caused them to stay away from the Church. 37% say this disillusionment is one of the primary reasons for leaving. Of the formerly churched who expressed disillusionment, 45% said that they felt the church was unloving.
Without a doubt, the American Church has a major problem as millions of people leave each year. But we think there’s a reason to remain optimistic. The second portion of our research focused on how the Church can bring these people back into a local body. What we uncovered were some simple, yet exciting factors that could help people return to the Church. First and foremost, a considerable number of those who left the church said they’re willing to come back. While many are not actively seeking a church now, a large majority (62%) is open to the idea of returning. Conversely, only a small minority (28%) of the formerly churched is unlikely to consider returning in the foreseeable future. So these findings should be a huge encouragement to you. The question is what specifically can we do to see them return?
The overwhelming numbers of this exodus have motivated many denominations to discover the reasons behind it. Clergy from churches across the country are meeting to figure out what they can do about it. This past weekend clergy and lay leaders in the Long Island Presbytery gathered to find ways to reinvigorate our churches and to find ways that we can collaborate in ministry. I believe that by coming together to discuss and discern new ways to be the church and to do ministry, we are finding the answer to our questions. One answer is that we have discovered that for far too long we have existed as isolated communities. The irony and the paradox of the combination of the words, “isolated community” underscores our need to reexamine what it means to be a church community.
It is discouraging for pastors and congregations to see dwindling populations which often leads to a sense of apathy. But as we come together and partners with others in the local church we a) recognize that we are all in the same boat b) that we can help each other to shore if we start rowing in the same direction. We have more power together than we have apart and we have more power than we think. One thing that stands out from the research is that41% of the formerly churched said that they would return to the local church if a friend or acquaintance invited them. Younger adults are even more influenced by the power of the invitation. Approximately 60% of those 18–35 would consider returning to church if someone they knew asked them to come back.
Perhaps one of the most underestimated reasons people return to the Church is that someone simply invited them back. Perhaps, a simple, invitation is all it may take to prompt someone to come back to church? When someone strays from the church, friends and family should be there to encourage him or her to return. Let them know that they are missed and most importantly that they are loved.
The present reality is that too many people are walking away from our churches. But I pray that we can remain hopeful and optimistic about the future. Our church motto is meet God and friends here. If in fact God is here shouldn’t we share that good news with those close to us? Invite someone this week, this month to come back to church.
The song “Count Your Blessings” is a favorite childhood hymn. The first verse says, “When upon life’s billows you are tempest tossed, when you are discouraged thinking all is lost, count your many blessings name them one by one and it will surprise you what the Lord has done.” When I was young I had no idea what it meant to be tempest tossed but I knew it was something that was so terrible that it made you want to count every good thing that ever happened in your life. The world is a scary place and bad things happen to good people. When we get hurt or disappointed it causes us to look at the world through dark sunglasses. Our outlook on becomes dim. It is only those with a commitment to looking at life with a sense of thankfulness (not necessarily through rose colored glasses) and gratitude, can see the world in a different light.
There is a quote from Meister Eckhart which says, “If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you that will be enough.” For most of us “thank you” probably won’t be our entire prayer, but we should spend time in prayer thanking God for what we have rather than always asking for help. If we want to grow strong in our faith, we must begin by having a heart of gratitude. So how do we learn to count our blessings amidst the regular challenge and turmoil of our lives? We must develop an attitude of gratitude that sees the glass half full rather than half empty. This way of thinking or looking at things helps us to change our perception.
This brings to mind another favorite song that I loved to sing at Christmas time. The song “Do You Hear What I Hear?” is mistakenly assumed to be a Christmas carol, but the truth is it was written as a protest song during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. The songwriter, challenged listeners in this popular song to see the world differently in the midst of war. He was able to pen a powerful plea for peace because he had experienced the horrors of war during Hitler’s regime. A refrain from the song rings in my ears “Pray for peace, people everywhere…”
With these songs in mind I challenge all of us to count our blessings and to look at our lives through a different lens. What do you see when you look at our church? Do you see a church in despair? Do you see what I see, the church triumphant, and the church of Jesus Christ? I see a church that continues to come together for worship through difficult and changing times. I see a church that is still willing to try and is still holding open its doors for whoever wants to come in. I see a church that is still giving, still loving each other and still singing songs of praise to God in the midst of uncertainty.
We are a blessed congregation and blessed people! Collectively we have more wealth than most people in many parts of the world. Our church doors are still open and we are still worshipping together in the same building. Unfortunately, many of our Christian brothers and sisters cannot say the same.
The First Presbyterian Church of Levittown is celebrating its 65th anniversary this year! As we approach this milestone in our congregation, I ask that you count the many l blessings that you have experienced in this church. When you finish counting your blessings take time to thank God for the wonderful memories and moments where you met God and friends here. Then ask God to open your eyes and to help you see this worshipping community in a different light. Ask God to give you a renewed faith and a restored hope that this church will be around for at least another 65 years.
I am asking all who love and care about this church to attend our 65th anniversary spaghetti dinner on November 2nd from 4 – 8pm. We are inviting the community to come celebrate with us. I am also asking all who are able and willing to donate a love offering of $65 in honor of our church that the work of Christ may continue. We have been blessed by the labor of love of those who have gone before us. Now, it is now our turn to continue the legacy by giving of our time and talent to maintain this wonderful faith community for the next generation.
Dear Members and Friends of the First Presbyterian Church of Levittown,
16 I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. 17 I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him. Ephesians 1:16-17
Words cannot express how blessed we are by your outpouring of love to us me on Sunday. We were delighted by your kindness and excellent endeavor to provide us with such a lovely reception. Your combined and collaborative efforts showed your love and thoughtfulness towards us. I (Terri) am still amazed that you were able to surprise me. You pulled it off! Thank you for the gift, the food, the wonderful cake, and the pleasure of seeing the joy that comes from serving and living within the beloved community of Christ!
May the Lord continue to bless this community of faith as we discern God’s will and way toward a faithful future.